This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on January 25, 2016.
The Vision may be the most honest comic being published by Marvel Comics today, but it’s predicated on a lie.
On the second page of The Vision #1 George and Nora, a suburban middle aged couple, go to greet their new neighbors the Visions, composed of the superheroic Vision and his newly created wife Virginia and their adolescent children Viv and Vin. As George and Nora approach the house with a plate of cookies they argue about what their neighbors are. George refers to them as robots and Nora attempts to correct him without knowing the correct terminology either. To Nora they are “something else. Like a synthe-something.”
Whatever the correct terminology, the couple is in agreement that the Visions are not like them; they are otherly. That distance between ordinary looking people like this mustached man and his cookie-carrying wife and the Visions is obvious from their very first appearance. As a family they are salmon-colored with green hair, each of them possessing a yellow diamond on their forehead and blank, white eyes. Everything from their appearance to their speech (bubbles) to their behavior creates a barrier.
The Visions are not human. This is the lie.
Despite everything that sets them apart on a superficial level, each of the four members of this family are deeply, painfully human. Their depiction in The Vision does not exist simply to make this a story about androids (or synthezoids) or a science fiction tale about artificial intelligence. It is a device used to both distinguish them as individuals and enhance the struggles they encounter. There’s no clean metaphor to be found in their otherness either. It is not simply depression or loneliness or illness; it can certainly encompass these things, but allows for a much broader examination of the life the Visions have chosen.
Reading the first three issues of The Vision published so far, what is most striking about the series is the subtle hints of humanity and everyday life imbued on seemingly fantastical scenes. The comic is firmly set in the Marvel universe, one complete with references to the Silver Surfer, Captain America, and Agatha Harkness. It does not read like a superhero story in genre though, resembling works of magical realism much more closely. That the unreal heightens the reality of the story lends it a deeper connection to the works of Gabriel García Márquez than Jack Kirby.
The reality of The Vision is provided in dialogue carefully crafted by writer Tom King. Each conversation between members of the family serves at least two purposes, highlighting their unique natures and imparting a sense of something familiar. After George and Nora depart the Vision household in The Vision #1, Virginia says, “They seemed kind.” Vision disputes her phrasing and insists, “It is proper to say they seemed nice.”
This argument is one defined by pedanticism. It is the minor sort of thing couples will argue about when larger issues rest beneath the surface because it is easier to fight about the meaning of “seeming kind” than something more meaningful. Artist Gabriel Walta does an excellent job of downplaying the emotions in this scene as well. Changes in attitude are reflected in eyes and eyebrows, shoulders and how bodies face. There is no grand declaration at the resolution of the argument, despite the discerning agreement made. The Vision and Virginia simply agree upon it as it is the subtext of the ending of so many other mundane arguments made text. If the specifics were removed, this is a conversation that ought to be recognizable to most couples living together.
Later in The Vision #3 Virginia approaches her husband to seduce him. The scene is again familiar, but slightly different. Her appearance in the bathroom door wearing a negligee is a familiar trope in both fiction and reality. Virginia’s subsequent approach blurs the line between the two, pieces of the outfit drop from her as she draws closer, phasing through her body instead of simply being removed. Their encounter appears entirely natural with Vision continuing to babble, unsure of Virginia’s change in attitude, as she softly assures him everything is okay.
As the series progresses, King foreshadows an oncoming disaster caused by the Visions resulting in the deaths of their neighbors and many others. These increased stakes defy the unremarkable visits of neighbors, kitchen conversations, and foreplay. They do not defy the human reality of the Visions as a family though. Whenever the welfare of Viv or Vin is threatened, the response from their parents is notable in both how extreme and understandable they are.
These reactions are primarily generated from an inciting event in The Vision #1 in which Viv is badly hurt by the Grim Reaper (a walking metaphor for death in this comic). The most obvious reaction to this is Virginia’s murder of the Grim Reaper and her subsequent cover up. She never doubts her actions and, making love to her husband at the end of The Vision #3, is quite content in the path she has chosen. The fallout of Viv’s injury has pushed the heroic Vision further down a dark path as well.
In The Vision #2 Vin attacks another boy at school for insulting his comatose sister, forcing his parents to be brought in to discuss punishment. When the principal suggests expulsion and calls Vin a weapon, Vision takes control of the situation. He not so subtly threatens the principal, referencing the number of times his actions have saved the Earth, to make it clear that his son will remain in school. In this moment Vision is a protective parent unhinged from the rules of the situation and purely focused on his relationship to his child.
Walta depicts the sequence in which this threat is featured in three panels. The first two are closed, but the third is open on the bottom moving into the bleed of the page. It is not the only time Walta has used this layout. Previously in The Vision #1, Vision watches Virginia sleep and questions the love in their relationship. The final moment of this scene hovers as well as he stands purely focused on what he ought to feel for his wife.
In The Vision #3 Vision is provided with an opportunity to save Viv through a painful and risky maneuver proposed by Tony Stark. Midway through the procedure, Stark threatens to shut down the power in order to save Vision at the cost of Virginia’s recovery. Vision’s response is an assured threat to Stark, his oldest friend in existence. In the realm of the superhero this reads like melodrama, but given the stakes of a parent attempting to save their child, it reads like a sympathetic, almost responsible reaction.
By steeping The Vision in humanity in its simplest and most extreme moments, King and Walta have constructed a nuclear family that feels very understandable no matter what oddities they or their lives may feature. Showing them attempt to relate to one another and the world around them makes them human. That is not purpose of The Vision though; it’s simply the truth that lays the groundwork for everything else the series has to say. It is integral that readers understand the Visions as human so they do not dismiss their separation from humans as a byproduct of inhumanity.
The same scene in which Vision is shown attempting to understand his relationship with his wife also shows the gulf between them. He thinks, “This is my wife. I love her. I must love her.” The determination to love her because of her specific role in connection to him speaks to the dream of normality. It is part of a narrative that says husbands love their wives. The very thought that this could not be so is enough to make him believe something is wrong, “a glitch in myself.” It is a brief sequence that composes the imposition of roles and expectations over actual human connection and feeling. That Vision does not feel a certain way in a certain moment makes him believe there is something wrong with himself.
That tension is carried through the first three issues of the series to the point that he has difficulty connecting to his wife sexually. When she presents her body to him in a scene that Walta makes as sexy as possible, he is baffled rather than aroused. The previous suppression of his actual feelings have left him feeling unsure about what seems to be a certain scenario.
Similar small moments find all of the members of the family questioning their roles within their community. On the first day of school Vin finds himself comfortably going through the motions of classes, following a schedule and listening to instructions. It is only when he interacts one-on-one with another human being that this outline is disrupted. The simple act of a classmate asking him “R U Normal?” turns Vin’s assured facial expression into one of existential panic. The structure and rules that compose the normal life he is striving for are discarded as soon as someone else decides to challenge him, even in a teasing manner.
Walta beautifully depicts the ways in which the Visions have found themselves connected and separated through their power of flight. In The Vision #1 he shows Viv and Vin flying down to their first day at school. The panel is looking upward from the point of view of other schoolchildren emphasizing the distance in space between the two Visions and the rest of their classmates. They come from a unique place and are only connected to one another.
A similar moment exists in a splash in The Vision #2 after the parent-teacher conference in which Vision threatens the principal. Vision and Virginia are flying home separated from the entire city of Alexandria by space and clouds, their shadows dancing on the white surfaces below them. Virginia simply says I love you as they hang together connected in a city where they are the only two people near one another.
As much as both of these images emphasize distance, they do not make it the sole defining characteristic of the moment. In each case there is one other person capable of understanding the experience that each family member is going through, and many more who cannot hope to reach them. In these instances there is a clear balance between loneliness and connection.
This is what The Vision is about. First comes all of the work to become normal, to be part of society, to be simply human. Then comes the recognition that the dream of normality is ephemeral and being human is never simple. Loneliness is a condition that all four members of the family must confront. They are only relieved of this circumstance when together, as children playing outside or adults in the bedroom. That relief is rare and unique. The children are gawked at and have their pictures taken by others. The adults have slurs of their sex life painted on the garage.
The imminent apocalyptic ending alluded to in the narration seems to be a result not of the Visions nature, but their rejection of it. Each attempt to fit into society, to appease neighbors and work within the definitions of what is an acceptable family places additional stress on each member of the family. They are happy when acting as themselves, but find themselves suffering when striving to be the definition of “husband”, “student”, “wife”, etc.
Like the Floating Water Vase of Zenn-La featured in their living room, the Visions attempting to simply be normal become something that only function in appearance. The vase appears like an instrument to hold water and flowers, but its chemical composition will poison any flowers rested inside of it. Rather than embracing the uniquely beautiful properties of flight that it possesses, it is shaped to be a more mundane object. In that process it is not only rendered useless, but becomes potentially destructive.
At the end of The Vision #3, it is revealed that the portents of doom unveiled in narration have actually been coming from a specific source as opposed to an omnipotent narrator. Agatha Harkness, a witch with ties to Vision’s ex-wife Scarlet Witch, has had a vision of the future and the opening lines of that prophesy mirror the opening captions ofThe Vision #1. This revelation marks a dramatic shift in direction for The Vision. What was once a certainly doomed future is now only a projection, one crafted by another human being left alone in the wilderness. There is no definite future, only the potential for pain and suffering.
Does the need for normality prevent meaningful connection? Is it possible to find understanding outside of a few people? Is there ever such a thing as a happy ending? What does it mean to be human? These are the questions that rest at the heart of The Vision and their answers are uncertain. It is only clear that these are questions not posed to the Visions alone. They are questions each of us must confront as well.